UK’s controversial rejection of convert’s asylum claim ‘needs thorough investigation’

UK’s controversial rejection of convert’s asylum claim ‘needs thorough investigation’

Hundreds of Iranians have travelled to the UK to seek asylum, many of them claiming to be Christian converts. (Flickr / CC / malachybrowne)

The UK’s immigration service has come under fire for using verses from the Bible to contradict the claims of an Iranian asylum seeker who said he’d converted to Christianity because it was a “peaceful” religion.

The unnamed Iranian, who filed for asylum in 2016, was told on Tuesday that his claim had been rejected because the claim that Christianity was “peaceful” was inconsistent with verses such as “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you” – from the book of Leviticus. 

“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge,” read a letter from the British Home Office, which was shared online by the Iranian’s lawyer, Nathan Stevens.

The lawyer later shared another similar Home Office rejection to a separate asylum case, which stated: “You affirmed in your Asylum Interview Record that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed he would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”  

A member of the UK-based Christian Action Research and Education charity, James Mildred, writing on the Christian website Premier, said “both examples demonstrate a dangerously shallow level of religious literacy in the Home Office”.

Church of England spokesman, Bishop Paul Butler, said he was “extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities”. 

Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in London said the incident needed “thorough investigation” to “determine whether this is merely out of misunderstanding or a proactive attempt to adversely affect the application of someone whose life may very literally be at risk”.

As Article18 has highlighted, Iranian converts to Christianity are often targeted by the intelligence service (MOIS). 

Many have been arrested and charged with “actions against national security”, then given lengthy sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Once arrested, converts often face pressure to recant their faith or sign commitments not to meet with other Christians. In many cases, converts have been released after paying huge sums for bail, then given their passports and encouraged to leave Iran. 

As a result of the harsh treatment they face, many converts decide to leave Iran, as Article18 highlighted in its inaugural annual report, released in January.